Dots of rattling white lights illuminated College Green Tuesday evening as Penn sophomores pumped small blue lanterns in the night air.
Some turned their lights on to signal the fact that they were studying nursing, attending Wharton, or that they had overcome the fear of speaking up in class. Others identified as first-generation or low-income, or recognized the struggle of finding a community at Penn.
“With so much darkness in the world, tonight is all about shining your light. It’s about finding your light. And let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to find it. We dissolve to just a flicker,” Lizzie Youshaei, sophomore class board president, said. “So it’s up to us to help each other find one another’s light.”
It was with that symbolism—not to mention music and balloons, grilled foods, and T-shirts emblazoned with “21”—that the University began what is expected to become a new Penn tradition: U-Night.
The event, organizers said, was intended to forge unity and to fill the second-year gap in what some called the “ritualistic journey” at the University, which includes Convocation, Hey Day, and Commencement.
Before Tuesday, the last time the sophomore class had convened en masse was at Convocation in August 2017, and campus leaders noted how much happens in two years at Penn, including students’ declaring their majors.
“You’ve climbed the mountain and the destination has come in sight,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said. “Two more years!”
It was a point that Gutmann illustrated through the continuation of an exercise first prompted at Convocation.